• CloudCamp Auckland – First of Many


    Last week I ran the first of a lengthy series of Australasian CloudCamps – this one was in Auckland, New Zealand.

    When I first started telling people that I was running the events, I was pretty stunned at the buy-in: both from potential sponsors and from attendees. It seems that 2010 is going to be a big year – two factors would seem to account for this, firstly that we’re coming out of a recession and the barriers to expenditure are finally coming off and secondly that every man and his dog, from start-ups to traditional vendors, are positioning themselves to deal in this brave new world.

    This fact was borne out by the organizations that chose to sponsor the event – from platinum sponsor Gen-i, an ICT product and service company that is a subsidiary of New Zealand’s largest telco, to the companies who took gold-level sponsorships: salesforce.com, VMWare, Microsoft and enStratus, through to those who chose to support in other ways, Intergen, Zendesk and the University of Auckland, it really was a well supported event.

    There were some incredibly interesting discussions – local lawyer Rick Shera led a remarkably interesting and, at times, passion filled session looking at the jurisdictional and general legal implications of the cloud. While a few participants asked why we’re asking these sorts of existential questions that have been asked time and again over the past decade or so, I believe that the fact that attendees still have concerns around this stuff shows that, despite what many would say – the legal implications of the cloud, encompassing distribution of data, outsourcing of processing and less certainty of where and how data is actually stored, all result in a clear uncertainty and reticence to embrace the benefits.

    We talked about privacy and security and the trade off that those who chose to use “free” services make (given that these “free” services are monetized through other, and sometimes less transparent, means) – this discussion was put in a “who’s less evil of the bigcos” question with many attendees expressing far greater concern over Google’s approach (free apps with a potential dark side) compared to Apple’s (proprietary and inflexible attitudes and a paid-for service but arguably a more “open” approach).

    We had some really interesting (and frankly a little depressing) discussions about the ability or otherwise that New Zealand has to compete in this new world and the opportunity for cloud companies here to succeed – it was really great to have the founders of both VendHQ (an interesting startup to watch – someone doing SaaS in an entirely new space) and Litmos (another interesting start-up from downunder) along to give their perspectives on the startup space.

    We talked around the usual barriers-to-adoption issues – and looked at how governance, IT concerns and connectivity issues all impact negatively on the willingness of organizations to adopt the cloud.

    And finally (and unavoidably) we talked about the private cloud vs public cloud debate – we had a few dogmatic types who discounted the entire private cloud concept, while others were much more accepting of the trend.

    All in all an excellent event – many thanks to the sponsors and the attendees and a special shout out to Anne Bilek from enStratus for her logistical help on the ground. Next CloudCamp is on Thursday in Sydney, it’s still not too late to register, you can do so here.

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  • On Paywalls, Search and the Risk of Irrelevance


    So AccMan (Dennis Howlett) has decided to go down a monetization route, in addition to being funded by a vendor content widget, he’s looking at monetizing by charging for a small percentage of “premium content”. It’s an interesting move and…

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  • Cloud Connect – Discount Registration


    I’ll be attending Cloud Connect next month as will Krish – we’re looking forward to being part of the mass cloud pundits gathering – already the agenda looks awesome. The organizers have offered us the opportunity to give readers a 30% discount off the registration price. Just use code CNJRCC12 at the Cloud Connect website.

    From their site:

    Cloud Connect is the defining cloud computing event that brings together the entire industry—including executives, IT professionals and developers. See the latest cloud technologies and learn from thought leaders in Cloud Connect’s comprehensive conference and expo. March 15-18, 2010 —http://cloudconnectevent.com/

    Nice – looking forward to seeing lots of you there!

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  • BeeBole and Charts – The Joy of APIs


    In advance of the Google I/O conference in May (which I’m stoked that I’ll be attending and covering live), Yves Hiernaux, CEO of BeeBole flicked me an email telling me that they’re hoping to be invited to the developer sandbox at the event.

    In order to showcase their own take on where they’re going integrating Google chart tools into the application they’re developing, BeeBole produced this video showing how they’re using the API to create graphical representations of the underlying data in BeeBole.

    It’s an interesting video and hopefully does enough to get BeeBole a place at the conference but even more importantly it’s an example of just how easy it is to create applications now compared to only a few years ago. Until recently, a company wanting to create this sort of dashboard would have had to wrangle code and get down and dirty with development tools to do this. Today it’s simply a case of integrating with a ready built best-of-breed charting tool.

    Extrapolate this ease through to other functional areas – mapping, calculations, documentation etc – and you quickly see how third party tools and the power of the API are changing the world.

    Of course there’s the minor point of having to execute a business strategy, I wonder when Google will develop an API for that….

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  • Admit Your Frailty and People Will Respect You


    So Zendesk (more on them here) had a bad day. Their Worst Day Ever. CEO Mikkel Svane’s face paints a picture:


    To quote from his post:

    …a planned hardware maintenance with our service provider exceeded the one hour service window with a whopping three hours. Monday morning we experienced unusual high email traffic, which tipped over as a client decided to push a backlog of emails to our system. More than 10,000 emails hit our servers within a few minutes. We should have been resilient to that, but weren’t…

    So yes – in an ideal world problems like this wouldn’t happen. But we don’t live in an ideal world Sometimes things come unstuck.

    Compare the Zendesk response with another couple of situations I’ve experienced of late, poor mail order service and terrible web hosting service. There’s an iconic chain of electronic retail stores here in New Zealand and the founder, the late Alan Martin, used to go on national television with his advertisements which were always closed off with his saying:

    It’s the putting right that counts.

    And indeed it is – the world is (broadly speaking) accepting of problems providing an organization:

    1. Communicates the existence, cause and estimated duration of a problem as early and as frequently as possible and,
    2. Communicates exactly what is being done to stop the problem recurring

    In my two examples above that did not occur, in Zendesk’s case it did.

    So well done Mikkel, oh and go home and have a gammel dansk.

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  • Central Desktop Rolls Out Big Changes to their UI


    Central Desktop (more on them here)  is today unveiling version 2.0 of its offering that is delivering an entire new user interface for it’s customers. A quick update on the past year for Central Desktop:

    • 44% year-over-year growth in revenue (gross bookings)
    • Employee growth from 20 to 30 employees
    • Hundreds of new Enterprise Edition customers
    • Q4 2009 Enterprise Edition sales compared to Q4 2008 increased by more than 600%
    • Released Microsoft Outlook plug-in
    • Micro-blogging feature (Status updates syndicated to Twitter and Facebook)
    • Extended global performance via Akamai’s content delivery network

    With this new version, Central Desktop delivers a redesigned, intuitive user interface, and introduces several new features including an online file viewing enhancement. Online file viewing is a high profile area after box.net coined the term “cloud content management” a month or so ago.

    The new features of Central Desktop 2.0 include:

    • New User Interface – Central Desktop’s user interface has been completely redesigned to provide a more user-friendly experience. The new layout includes a workspace creation wizard, workspace templating, new drop down menus, customizable tabs and configurable settings.


    • Online File Viewer – The expanded file preview feature supports 189 different file types including Microsoft Office files, PDFs, JPEGs, TIFs, CAD files and Adobe Photoshop files. All files are also accompanied by a thumbnail image for an at-a-glance immediate preview and the ability to comment on files without having to download them to the desktop.


    • Improved Wiki Navigation – One-click wiki page creation and page navigation enhancements – Wiki pages can be rearranged by simply dragging and dropping pages within a wiki tree, giving a hierarchical structure to ordinarily flat wiki pages.
    • PDF Creator – Convert, download and share any file type – including images – as a PDF with a single click directly from Central Desktop.
    • Internal Blogs and Forums – A corporate blog, project blog or discussion forum can be created quickly and used to share thoughts, make announcements or capture the evolution of ideas and projects.


    • Page Favorites – Frequently visited pages or files can be marked as favorites for quicker access.


    • Avatars – Central Desktop 2.0 uses avatars throughout the platform to identify users and accompany their recent activity.

    I’ve used a bunch of online collaboration platforms and while they all vary on the continuum  from lightweight to rich, one consistent factor has been their lack of usability for shop-floor workers. With the brief play I had of Central Desktop, I’m impressed at the user experience factors that they’ve obviously considered when designing this new UI. This new focus should see them able to branch out into different, and more mainstream, markets. As CEO Isaac Garcia said when I spoke with him:

    Our top priority is creating a collaboration solution that balances utility with usability to increase user adoption for our customers… Going forward, we will continue to build on our 2.0 platform to create turn-key, customizable solutions that target specific industries and customer segments.”

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  • PBworks Finds Convergence. Ad Hoc Conference Calling


    PBworks has released its voice collaboration offering that allows one-click voice conferencing from within their collaboration product. We’ve written about PBworks before, but for those who need a recap, PBworks was founded in 2005 and has grown to the point where they host over one million workspaces for upwards of 85000 businesses.

    PBworks have noticed what they’re calling a “grand convergence” where collaboration products, voice conferencing, telcos and others are converging in a space that sees multiple communication modalities available depending on the context of work participants are engaged in. They contend that shifting modalities (ie moving from text to voice) should not require a change of platforms. To this end PBworks is letting customers integrate voice into their collaboration workflow.

    What this means in practice is that, rather than setting up a conference line in advance and asking attendees to dial in, a user can initiate an instant conference call by clicking participants names. In Users can also add new participants at any time, and each conference call is recorded and stored for later use and review. Voice Collaboration is device agnostic and can be triggered using a desk phone or mobile.

    voice conference

    PBworks wants to distinguish itself from the traditional conference call services which it says are most useful for “appointment” collaboration. A user must set up a meeting, send out dial-in information to all interested parties, usually via email, and then wait for all parties to arrive. This overhead generally limits usage to scheduled calls.

    In contrast, PBworks is trying to make voice collaboration a natural extension of its collaboration suite. When a user needs to connect with one or more others to gather valued input, he can add a colleague to an ad-hoc conference call with a single click that initiates an outbound call to the colleague’s regular phone. He can call anyone who already has a PBworks user profile, or manually dial any other telephone number of a person he wants to include.

    The Voice Collaboration beta is available to all Business and Legal Edition customers, as well as Business Edition free trial users. During the beta period, Voice Collaboration will be free, with a cap of 200 call minutes for free trials. The calling area is limited to the US and Canada.

    After the beta period ends, PBworks Business and Legal Edition customers will receive 200 minutes/month at no extra charge. Those who need more minutes can upgrade to Nationwide 300, which costs $5/user/month and provides 300 minutes/user/month. Heavy users can upgrade to Nationwide 2000 for $20/user/month and receive 2,000 minutes/user/month.

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  • SlideRocket Brings the Real Time Web to Presentations


    SlideRocket (more coverage here) is today making a release that sees them move one step closer to making presentations that are integrally bound with the real time web rather than historic reflections. SlideRocket is releasing a new plugin architecture that allows third party developers to create plugins that harness real time data as part of a presentation.

    Initially plugins are available to run live polls, harness a live Twitter feed and present dynamic stock quotes/RSS but what is really interesting here is that by opening up the architecture, SlideRocket unharnesses their product and allows any developer to think of weird and wonderful uses for real time data within a presentation.

    SlideRocket’s new plug-ins are currently being rolled out to subscribers and will be available
    to all SlideRocket users by mid-March 2010. Details of the initial plugins are:

    • Interactive polling: PollEverywhere, the text message polling and audience response system, developed a plug-in that adds live polling capabilities to SlideRocket. Users can create interactive presentations by asking the audience questions and including the responses in real-time within a slide.


    • Live Twitter streams: SlideRocket has embedded the Twitter API into a slide template to bring backchannel discussions to the stage.


    • Live stock ticker and other RSS Feeds


    It’s a great idea – I’ve seen some instructions for showing a live Twitter feed within PowerPoint and they run to 10 pages or more – with this move, SlideRocket have made sharing real time data with an audience easy. Check out their demo presentation here

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  • Subscription and Billing Services – Outsource or Roll You Own?


    The next paper Krish and I are writing over at Diversity Analysis is one looking at subscription and billing services. It’s an area I’ve touched on frequently here and is a relatively busy, and increasingly complex, space. I’ve talked previously about Zuora, Vindicia, Aria systems and have spent much time in the past few days talking to other vendors.

    It seems there is a big divide between companies that decide to roll their own subscription/billing system, and those who go with a third party provider. As part of my research I’m reaching out to companies asking what they currently do for S&B services, what they’d do if the were starting again, and why.

    So as something of a crowdsourcing experiment, I’m aggregating all the responses I get here in a post. Vendors are welcome to comment below or contact me directly to discuss. Some responses thus far:

    Robert Coup – Founder of Koordinates:

    we’re not straight SAAS (more marketplace) but we did. Plan is to offload a bunch of it to @TeamXero via API though. [my response was to ask why they went down that route – Ed] There wasn’t anything really suitable. In hindsight I probably would have looked harder, dealing with things like GST is a PITA across suppliers/customers/commissions/etc

    Julian Stone, CEO of ProWorkflow:

    Yes. Built from scratch to use DPS [a local payment gateway – ed]. Only way to get what we needed.

    Ian Sweeney – CEO of billFlo:

    we did our own billing data aggregation, billing (sending invoices!) but farm out collection… time to explain our needs = the time for us to build. we have expertise. our needs will change. we want to control user exp.

    Jason Lemkin, CEO of Echosign:

    Yes because we started 4+ years ago.  We also wanted maximum flexibility in credit-card customers and ones to invoice.  Not what we would do again. [to which I asked what he’d do if we were starting again today from scratch – Ed] It’s complicated b/c I don’t think any of the services handle BOTH credit card and invoicing well.  Zuora is terrific but very focused on complex invoicing for subscriptions.  Paypal finally added recurring subscriptions to their API but you have to build it and that doesn’t help with invoicing.  They all need to integrate with BOTH Salesforce and your back-end, for us QuickBooks.  The start-ups with no funding I am not sure we’d trust.  To answer your question, we would use Zuora but it’s still only part of a solution that is more complex that it might at first appear.

    Heather Villa, CEO of IAC-EZ:
    Yes [we built our own solution] – security, dependability, wanting to minimize 3rd parties as much as possible – one less party that payment information has to pass through 🙂 (and one less party to depend on)

    Feel free to join in the conversation…

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  • The CloudConnect Launch Pad Finalists!


    Voting time! With a hat tip to Paige Finkelman for doing such a great job herding jurors – the final eight entries for the Cloud Connect Launch Pad are here! All eight have produced demo videos and you can vote for your favorite here.

    As a juror it would be inappropriate for me to give my impressions about the offerings before voting has finished – suffice it to say there’s several offerings in the lineup that take my fancy but that parochialism has gotten the better of me 😉 The four videos with the most votes will be announced on February 18, 2010 and interact live on the show floor at the Cloud Connect Conference on March 15th – 18th, 2010.



    Drawn to Scale






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